The Vietnam War - Truman to Kennedy


Harry S. Truman

April 1945 - January 1953

Democrat - experienced segregation first hand, one of the first presidents to understand the importance of the black vote. Cold war had a big impact on CR legislation. Set up NATO, made decision to oppose communism throughout the world, and held the doctrine of 'containing' communism

Dwight D. Eisenhower

January 1953 - January 1961

Republican - Believed in gradual desegregation, that it would occur naturally over time. In relation to Vietnam began the doctrine of 'rolling back' communism.


January 1961 - November 1963

Democrat - Advocated greater militancy in the Cold War, his campaign was full of anti-communist rhetoric. Dramatically increased US involvement in Vietnam, partly due to the Bay of Pigs disaster. Used civil rights in his election campaign, personally believed in desegregation. His brother Robert Kennedy was Attorney General, also very sympathetic to civil rights.

Vietnam - Who is to blame?

Red = yes
Green = no
Black = other

US ignores HCM

October 45 - Feb 46

Ho Chi Minh sent eight friendly messages to the US, even stating that he had nothing to do with the Kremlin or Beijing, howver they where all ignored, and HCM becomes more and more anti US

Franco-Vietminh War Truman pays 80% French Costs

December 1945 - 1954

Also known as the First Indochina war, French decisively beaten at DienBienPhu. Truman picked up 80% of the French costs. Vietnam split with HCM in the North and the french puppet Bao Dai in the south.


December 1945

The policy created by Truman's administration, advocated involvement in SE asia and Europe to stop the spread of Comm.

No long term involvement


Truman sends no Troops to Vietnam

HCM ignored again


HMC makes further gestures, Truman thinks he is probably a puppet of the Kremlin, and ignored him again.

China becomes Communist

November 1949

Mao Zedong's Communists take over China, a major defeat for Truman and the US as a whole, despite no fighting on their behalf. This puts pressure on further presidents to fight the spread of communism


Feb 1950

McCartyism was radical anti communism, a council set up by senator McCarthy accused many people of being communist sympathizers, it whipped many american's into an anti-communist hysteria that meant that Truman had to be seen to be doing something (however he mostly solved this through the Korean War)

Korean War

June 1950 - July 1953

Truman's main focus throughout his presidency, this set the standard for US involvement in east asia, and set the precedent for Proxy wars between the US and China/Russia. However it did distract away from Vietnam, also success in Korea (?) helped to placate American fears about communism.

Eisenhower funds French

March 1954 - May 1954

Eisenhower follows on Truman and gives $385 million worth of armaments to the french just before DienBienPhu, in return the french agreed to grant greater independence to Vietnam. Eisenhower thought it would be cheaper to pay other countries to fight the wars v communism for him.


March 1954 - May 1954

French suffer a crushing defeat at the hands of the Vietminh, under HCM

Geneva Conference

April 26 1954 - July 20 1954

Representatives from the Indochina states, US, France, USSR, communist china and GB gathered to discuss what would happen to Indochina after Dien Bein Phu. The Geneva accords ruled that Vietnam would be split along the 17th parallel and elections would be held for a united Vietnam, also neither North nor South would make any military agreements with any foreign power. The Americans where not very happy as they knew that any elections held would result in HCM becoming ruler.

Eisenhower sends bombers

May 1954

Eisenhower responded to French pleas for help by sending US bombers + 200 technicians. Did not want to to, but said to congress that "we must not lose Asia"

Diem becomes PM

august 1954

Diem becomes Boa Dia's premier, this is because most other Vietnamese politicians where dead or with HCM

Huge economic aid

1955 - 1961

$7 billion dollars poured into SV by the Eisenhower admin.

French hand over Vietnam


The french, unhappy with Diem and his handling of the sects crisis, withdraw all of their interests in Vietnam, leaving Diem to look solely to the US for help

Diem becomes President

October 1955

Diem rigs an election, getting 98.5% of the vote, those voting for Boa Dai where punished. The Americans where not very happy, but had no one else to rule Vietnam.

Diem visits America

July 1957

On a visit to the US Diem is praised, but secretly the Americans tell him to reform and make himself popular, he does not listen, in this sense it was Diem's fault and not Eisenhower's

Sino-Soviet Summit


The Chines and Soviets, unable to agree with each other over foreign policy and increasing border tensions both competed to win the support of HCM with large amounts of money, food and weapons. Mao was keen to be seen as an international figure and so supplied the North with $1.9 billion.

Diem's Regime


Diem's regime became increasingly oppressive as a result of VC insurgency in the south. SV became a 'quasi police state' many where sentenced to death and the freedom of both the SV and US press was restricted. In 1962 Diem innitiates the Strategic Hamlets plan, this does not work and furthers VC cause in SV

JFK Elected

October 1960 - November 1960

Kennedy used very anti communist and confrontational rhetoric in his election campaign. During his inaugural address he said that America "will bear any burden, pay any price etc etc". Because of this Kennedy was forced to increase his Foreign involvement.

JFK's tactics change

January 1961

Khrushchev did this to try and improve relations with Mao, however Kennedy over-reacted and thought that the Soviets were getting aggressive. As a result Kennedy's focus shifts towards counter-insurgency.

BoP Fiasco

April 1961

The US supported invasion of Cuba fails, Kennedy humiliated, forces Kennedy into action.

Ground troop declined

May 1961

Kennedy sends Johnson to Vietnam on a fact finding mission. He instructs Johnson to offer US ground troops to Diem, however Diem refuses for political reasons. Communist insurgency is increasing.

Taylor-Rostow Report

28 November 1961

This report suggested greater US involvement and training of the ARVN, and more significantly, the use of US bombers on NV targets. This report demonstrates how little the US understood about the Vietnamese problems, forgetting that the issue was more political and that the people of SV where not united behind democracy.


Feb 1962

The military assistance command, Vietnam brought further US military aid to the fight against communist insurgents in the south. This included the use of Napalm and defoliants that only served to further the VC cause. The number of advisers in SV increased to 8000-9000 by the end of 1962.

Cuban Crisis

September 1962 - November 1962

Becuase of this Kennedy is determined to block Soviet expansionism. However the Soviets downplay their role in Vietnam after this, possibly as a result of the Sino-Soviet split in 1958-ish

Ap Bac + Buddhist crisis

January 1963 - September 1963

At the battle of Ap Bac, VC forces outnumbered 10 - 1 held off the ARVN, who killed each other more than the VC. Massive, humiliating defeat for Diem + Kennedy, preceded Diem's assassination.
The Buddhist crisis of Autumn 1963, where massive protests where put down by Diem's forces also precipitated Diem's assassination, the self immolation monk was seen everywhere and further undermined the US's public support for SV

Mansfield report

May 1963

Mounting criticism of Kennedy's foreign policy. The US media turn against Diem and report by Senator Mike Mansfield claimed that further US support in Vietnam would not be productive. Kennedy begins to turn towards withdrawal, but not until after the 1964 election.

Diem Overthrown- Kennedy assassinated

October 1963

ARVN generals, heavily supported by the US, overthrew Diem's regime, although Kennedy himself was somewhat undecided on the issue, there is clear evidence for US support in the coup.
This was point of no return for Kennedy, the Buddhist crisis had provided him with an excuse to withdraw, which he was probably looking to do, planning for it had begun in early 1962, however Kennedy never seriously took measures to do so because of his own IDEOLOGY - withdrawal would be tantamount to surrender to the Sino-Soviets, after this, and Kennedy's own military tactics, Johnson had to continue.